Slovak police on Thursday detained several Italian businessmen mentioned in the notes of a murdered journalist who was investigating a mafia operating in eastern Slovakia.
Police chief Tbor Gaspar confirmed raids and arrests in several places linked to the murders of Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Marina Kusnirova, both 27, in his home in Velka Maca, 65 kilometres east of the capital Bratislava.
Slovak media reported that among those held was businessman Antonino Vadala (pictured) and several of his relatives allegedly connected to Italy’s Ndrangheta crime syndicate and some powerful people in the the Slovak government.
An article by Kuciak, which was posthumously published on Wednesday by aktuality.sk, focused on fraud cases allegedly involving Vadala. It said Vadala was linked to Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s aides. One of them, Maria Troskova, was removed after Kuciak alleged she had ties to Vadala.
Last year, Kuciak had filed a complaint with police after he received threats from another businessman Marian Kocner involved in real estate deals. Police did not act on his complaint.
The double murder that shocked the nation came to light after the mother of Kusnirova complained to police that she has not heard from her daughter since last Thursday. Police visited Kuciak’s home on Sunday and found the pair dead with gunshot wounds.
The murders sparked calls from media organisations and Slovak politicians to protect journalists.
The editors-in-chief of major media outlets in Slovakia called on the government to create a safe working environment for journalists.
Reporters without Borders said authorities should thoroughly investigate the case, noting that Kuciak and others close to him had been threatened in recent months.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico said if Kuciak’s murder was tied to his work, the case would be an unprecedented attack on freedom of the press and democracy in Slovakia.
He said the government would offer a reward of $1.2 million for information leading to the killers’ capture.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker condemned the murders as a cowardly act, adding that the killing or intimidation of journalists has no place in Europe or in any democracy.
The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks vowed on Twitter to raise concerns over the deaths with the Slovakian government directly.
Kuciak is the second European investigative reporter to have been killed under suspicious circumstances in recent months. Maltese reporter and anti-corruption activist Daphne Caruana Galizia died when a car bomb exploded near her home in October.